The House of Government: A Saga of the Russian Revolution, by Yuri Slezkine

Three stars

It is truly a rare time when I will admit defeat and label a book as DNF (did not finish). However, after completing 22% of this piece, I have decided that I cannot continue, lacking the ability to affix sufficient attention to the narration or glean much of the author’s message. Some of this surely lays at my own feet, but as many have said on Goodreads, life is too short to be burdened with a book that leaves you feeling miserable as you trudge along.

Being a lover of history and revolutionary events steeped in politics, I was intrigued when I came upon Yuri Slezkine’s book. It was said to depict the intricacies of the Russian Revolution and told a strong story about it. While I know some publishers choose to spice things up with an eye-catching blurb on the dust jacket summary, I was led into something I was not expecting, much like the Tsar and his family. Slezkine spent a great deal of time in the portion of the book I read depicting the Russian Revolution and the Bolshevik takeover of the Soviet State as something akin to a new religion. Surely those familiar with the ideological underpinnings of the Bolsheviks and communist foundations will find some humour in this, but Slezkine does a decent job with the argument. While some may find it hard to find a comparison between Jesus, Moses, Joseph Smith, or Mohammed with the likes of Marx and Engels, the reader may see some interesting parallels found within the book. The struggle and clash of communism (youthful ideals) with well-established state ideologies (the old guard) shows how the Russian State was ready for a change and how easily it caught on with the masses. That said, much like the other major religious reformations over time, blood and violence preceded any change and it took a long time for the acceptance of this change. Slezkine reiterates his argument and pushes the reader to accept it through a form of inculcated repetition, much as the leaders of the Bolsheviks would have been able to instil this new means of thinking to the population. By this point of the book, I had tossed in the towel, as I was lost, both with the constant explosion of muddied facts, literary comparisons, and general circular arguments. While some who love Russian literature and writing style may love this piece, I cannot count myself as one of them.

I will be the first to admit that Russian literature is usually beyond my abilities. Be it the mindset or the dense style as thick as pea soup, I cannot be entirely sure, but I am sure that it is not simply something lost in translation. Slezkine does a masterful job at tying together history, politics, and literature, finding parallels between them all to sell his argument in favour of the revolutionary movement. I must applaud him there and can only hope that much of the remaining pages of this massive book continue to sell the details of the rise of the Bolsheviks. I could not find a thread to grasp as the narrative kept sinking deeper and deeper into a repetitive argument. The early religious parallels were truly interesting for me, but they lost their lustre quickly and I expected something more all-encompassing. For some reason, I entered this book thinking that it would be a piece of detailed fiction, whereby Slezkine would sell the idea of the Russian Revolution through his characters. Or perhaps a piece of non-fiction that would tie together some of the key happenings that led up to the fall of the Empire and arrival of Lenin and his fellow Bolsheviks to take control of the House of Government, the heart of the Russian State. I do hope some find solace in his massive tome, educating themselves with the details and the literary references. I’ll stick to my biographical pieces and educate myself with pieces more in line with my personal likes.

Thanks for the chance to try this, Mr. Slezkine, but I will steer clear of your work for the time being.

Wholeheartedly attempting to read this book fulfils Topic #3 (Book Set During a Revolution) of the A Book for All Seasons (Equinox #2) Book Challenge.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons